Thoughts on Alberto Gonzales

I just received this from a former very high-ranking official of the Justice Department (under Clinton) (and TalkLeft reader), whose opinion I hold in especially high regard:

The apparent nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General is a mixed blessing for progressives. It is fair to say that Gonzales is not nearly as bad as we might have expected. He is by no means a hard core ideologue, and he would not be likely to aggressively pursue a far right agenda. on his own By temperament he is a moderate, even if his views are far more conservative than we would wish. His record as a judge, while conservative, was not outrageous; indeed, it's commonly believed that he may not have been acceptable to the far right as a Supreme Court nominee. And what little leaks out of this Administration suggests that Gonzales was not a moving force behind most of the Administration's most outrageous legal positions.

But his failure to fight aggressively against some of those positions points up Gonzales' principal weakness, which is that he not likely to be a strong Attorney General, willing to stand up to the President and others within the Administration when it is required. Certainly nothing in his record as White House counsel suggests that he will have the independence necessary to preserve public faith in the nonpartisan nature of law enforcement. Rather, there is ground for fear that the Department - already highly politicized under Ashcroft - will become even more so because of Gonzales' close links to the White House. And there is also ground to fear that the White House will be able to have more influence over the course of sensitive political investigations than is appropriate.

A related issue is whether Gonzales, as an outsider coming from the White House, will be able to win the confidence of the career civil servants at the Department. Many of them have felt battered and isolated for the last four years. Ashcroft was surrounded by a group of highly political aides that was convinced that the civil servants were their enemy out to sabotage them. As a result many major decisions, ranging from gun control to terrorism, were made either without input from, or in the fact of input from, the career people at the Department. (That, in part, explains why many of those decisions were so bad - and I say that not only as a progressive but simply as a lawyer). Gonzales (unlike Larry Thompson, who in my mind would have been a superior choice) has no history at the Department, no reservoir of good will to draw upon. He will need quickly to demonstrate his independence from his former political bosses.

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